Developing a successful vaccine against SARS-CoV-2
The vaccine development effort in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in terms of both scale and speed. Importantly, SARS-CoV-2 vaccines will be essential in reducing morbidity and mortality if/when the virus establishes itself in the population. The race is now on for the development of both a safe and, effective vaccine against SARS-CoV-2.
Why is a coronavirus vaccine important?
The virus spreads easily and the majority of the world's population is still vulnerable to it. A vaccine would provide some protection by training people's immune systems to fight the virus so they should not become sick.
What sort of progress is being made?
- Research is happening at breakneck speed. About 140 are in early development, and around two dozen are now being tested on people in clinical trials.
- Trials of the vaccine developed by Oxford University show it can trigger an immune response and a deal has been signed with AstraZeneca to supply 100 million doses in the UK alone.
- The first human trial data back in May indicated the first eight patients taking part in a US study all produced antibodies that could neutralize the virus.
- A group in China showed a vaccine was safe and led to protective antibodies being made. It is being made available to the Chinese military.
- Other completely new approaches to vaccine development are in human trials. However, no-one knows how effective any of these vaccines will be.
What still needs to be done?
- Multiple research groups have designed potential vaccines, however, there is much more work to do.
- Trials need to show the vaccine is safe. It would not be useful if it caused more problems than the disease
- Clinical trials will also need to show vaccines provoke an immune response, which protects people from getting sick
- A way of producing the vaccine on a huge scale must be developed for the billions of potential doses
- Medicines regulators must approve it before it can be given
- Finally, there will be a huge logistical challenge of actually immunizing most of the world's population